I often visit mythical lands, make merry with fictional people and come back to Earth to write their fantastical tales on my blog; THE WORDS OF A DYING FLAME.
He could hear the screaming women despite having his volume fully turned up. They ran around from one hut to the other, hands over their heads, their lungs working overtime to announce:
“WOOIII! AMEKUFA! WOOIII!”
“Do they have to do that?” he asked his cousin, Jayden, who was equally disturbed by the scene.
“I don’t know, Mike,” he replied, “I don’t even know why we’re here anyway.”
“You’re here,” their father said with a stern voice, “to honour your grandparents. They thought the world of the two of you, and it would be a shame if you didn’t show up to this ceremony.”
“Why would it be a shame?”
“It is important to come as a family. The many times I’ve been here for council meetings, the elders always ask me ‘Mulamwa, where are your boys?’, and I always cover for you. This time, you have to be there.”
“Much as I understand that,” Jayden started, “I still do not understand why those women have to scream like they’re demon-possessed.” With that, the father pulled them both to the side, walked them to the stream just a few meters outside the homestead gate, and sat them down.
“Boys, this is your tribe. These are your people, and those are your customs. It has been this way long before my time, and it will continue to be so long after your own. It is important to familiarize yourself with the ways of your people, and not just ape what you see and hear from TV.”
“So, on the day that you or Mum pass on, will I be expected to do the same? I could just bring a microphone and speak normally. Saves time and vocal chords,” Mike spoke, eliciting hearty laughter from his cousin, and a slight chuckle from his stone-faced father.
“Don’t worry, boys. After tonight, you will take a keen interest in the ways of our people. I guarantee it,” he said, leading them back to the homestead. He walked on ahead to greet the elders while they hang back a bit. They saw three young boys playing with a ball made out of plastic papers.
“Look at them,” Jayden started.
“Why can't they just use a normal ball?” Mike asked.
“Kujeni!” one of the boys shouted, motioning them to join them.
The two looked at each other for a while before they reluctantly sauntered over to them. The boy kicked the ball to Mike, who juggled it expertly for a few seconds before passing it to Jayden, who fell as soon as his foot reached out for it. all laughed at the spectacle as he stood back up.
“Wait and see,” the 12-year-old said, taking a few steps back to kick it, only to slip at the last minute, foot kicking the air above him and his back landing on the mud, serving as entertainment for the kids.
“These Nairobi children,” one of them said, “don’t even know how to play outside.”
“What do you mean?” Mike said, rolling the ball towards him, juggling it a bit then flicking it in the air, balancing it on his neck and flicking it high again, lifting his foot to catch it right as it landed on it. The others clapped for him, very impressed with his football skills.
“Those are fancy moves. They don’t do that in matches,” the boy went on, itching for a match.
“You’re sure? Let me show you,” Mike said, “come for it then.” As the boy ran towards mike, the others helped Jayden up.
“Are you okay?” one asked.
“Yes, I just slipped.”
“You don’t play?”
“No. I’m more into basketball.”
“Ah, like Kobe Bryant?” the other asked.
“Well, yes. NBA 2K.”
The two looked at each other in wonder, then back at him, asking in unison:
“A video game.”
“Oh, you guys have video games?”
“Not many. I only play after I finish my homework.”
“So you don’t go outside? Is that why you’re this fat?” the other asked him, both laughing at him. He awkwardly laughed, tucking in his protruding stomach.
“I can play!” he said defiantly.
“Then show us. Let’s race from here to the gate,” one said, lining up. Jayden did the same as the other boy counted down.
“3, 2, 1, GO!”
Their father watched the children playing with a smile on his face before the elders invited him to sit with them underneath their mango tree, where they drank busaa as they addressed him.
“Mulamwa, those boys of yours are still not versed with our way of life?”
“That’s why I brought them here. I want them to start by knowing their peers, who will then teach them slowly by slowly.”
“There is another way to do so,” one elder murmured as the rest nodded in agreement.
“No!” the father stated, shaking a bit, “I mean, not yet. We don’t have to resort to that. They can start slowly by slowly, of their own free will.”
“I wish that was applied to us as well,” the same elder said, “but we simply do not have the luxury of the same.”
“And neither do we have the time,” another elder spoke, tapping his staff on the ground as he went on.
“With each passing day, our people’s roots are removed from our lineage by the imperialists. They came here, rubbished our way of life as sorcery while promoting what is ‘good’ in their eyes.”
“Kuka, that isn’t…”
“Don’t tell me I’m being rude! You know that I’m saying the truth. I saw my father die at the hands of these people, and you want me to defend them? Never! Look at your sons and tell me: doesn’t it bother you that their biggest source of education comes from a talking wall?”
“It does bother me.”
“Do they even know how to speak their language? Of course, they do not.”
“They’re learning,” the father tried defending.
“No. We gave you time, and clearly, you have failed. It’s time we take matters into our own hands.”
“Wazee, please…” the father tried pleading, bowing in reverence, but the others agreed with the embittered man.
“I’m sorry, my son. He’s right. We’re losing our heritage to modernism, and if we don’t do something, our culture will never see the light of day.”
“Is there another way?” the father asked, his voice cracking. One elder encouraged him with a pat on the shoulder, easing him to sit next to them as he said.
“You know there isn’t. If it bothers you so much, then we will make it a painless one. For your sake.”
The father merely nodded as one elder stood up, stating with finality.
“It is settled: when the fire is strong, the ceremony shall commence…”
The boys were then summoned by the elders to their grandfather’s hut to pay their respects. Slowly, they sauntered into the rectangular mud hut, lit by an opening on the right and one next to the door behind them.
They saw a group of people gathered around two people seated in the centre: one was wearing a flowing white dress with a veil covering her face while the other had an old brown suit with a wide-brimmed hat covering his head.
“Come now, don’t be shy,” one man said. Jayden gulped as Mike held his hand, sweaty to the touch.
“Today, young men,” one elder demanded, pushing them forward. They regained their balance and walked to the two in the centre.
“I swear I’m never coming back here when I get older,” Mike whispered.
“Me too. This is creepy,” Jayden went.
Mike walked over to the man while Jayden went over to the lady.
“Why are they seated?” Mike asked.
“He was our elder, young man,” a voice said, “it is customary to lay the elders of the community in such a manner,”
“Oh,” was all Jayden could say as he examined his grandmother, sitting in peace. In his heart, he was kind of glad that she seemed at peace, because the only memory he had of her was on the bed, grimacing in pain as she struggled to smile when her grandchildren came to see her.
Mike did his best to hide the tear that came from him when he finally realized that the man who taught him how to tie his shoelaces was no more. He reached out to straighten his hat because the people who put him like that had done it wrong.
“There,” he spoke in a soft voice, sniffling. The smile that always greeted him as a child was no more, the bright wrinkled face that welcomed him was now grey and ashen, and he simply couldn’t take it anymore. He shot out of the room, Jayden following him close behind. He saw Mike wipe the tears away quickly and breathe heavily to regain his composure before anyone else saw him.
“It’s sad, isn’t it?” Jayden asked his cousin, watching him mumble something before speaking audibly.
“Yeah. I didn’t think I’d feel this bad to see them go.”
“At least they’re at peace. You remember when…”
“I know, Jayden, I know,” Mike interrupted, burying his head between his knees. Jayden didn’t bother pushing the topic any further, as he knew his cousin didn’t handle emotional upset well.
“Boys!” the father’s stern voice startled them.
“You ran out of there? Why would you do that?”
“Sorry Dad,” Mike went, “it was just hard to look at her. I didn’t want to cry.” The father shook his head and comforted him with a smile.
“It’s okay, I understand,” the father said, his tone softer.
“I didn’t want to look weak. You always said men shouldn’t cry.”
“I understand that, Michael.”
“I know we didn’t really spend a lot of time with them, but it’s still sad to see them like that.”
“Yeah,” Jayden added, “at least she’s not in pain anymore.”
“And now, Kuka doesn’t have to complain about his leg anymore,” Mike added, “can I get his walking cane then?”
The father laughed as he nodded.
“It’s okay. I’ll miss…so much. It’ll be over soon,” he said, hugging the two boys. Jayden seemed to pull away from him before he let them go. They watched him walk back to the hut, where he merely nodded to one of the elders.
“Mike, did you see how those freaks were looking at us? It was not normal, you guy. It wasn’t normal at all.”
“What is it?” he asked his cousin, whose eyes were widened, mouth agape gasping for air.
“I saw her – I saw – I swear I saw - ”
“What is it?” he asked him again. Mike looked around, then leaned into his cousin’s ear.
“Jayden, he – he looked at me,” he muttered, his hand on his cousin’s shoulders, trembling.
“Mike, there’s no way that could have happened.”
“I swear, Jayden. I swear he opened his eyes.”
“That’s not possible!”
“I know what I saw….”
“Maybe you’re actually sad, you know? I read somewhere that having strong feelings makes you see stuff you shouldn’t see.”
“I don’t know where exactly, but I think it’s true. It was online,” he went on. These words seemed to reassure Mike as he regained his composure.
“Maybe you’re right, man. Maybe,” he said calmly, exhaling with relief.
“Did you hear what your Dad said?”
“About us walking out? Don’t worry you guy, he said he understood…”
“No, when he hugged us.”
“That he’ll miss them so much?”
“Oh, okay. I thought I heard my own things,” Jayden said as the two walked out the gate to the river, the words he heard still ringing in his mind:
‘I’ll miss you so much.’